Details of how a kung fu style works – first draft

Today I am going to detail the framework for incorporating kung fu with classes in Dragon In Ninth Heaven. This follows on from the previous post, and I have included a few ideas from Cy, one of the commenters.

Here’s a summary of how kung fu will be integrated into the system, and that will be followed by a worked example.

Each class will have the Kung Fu class feature. This class feature requires the character to choose a kung fu style, and that grants them access to specific powers. The basic powers granted by a kung fu style are based on the chi concentrations (refer here for details) the style is based on – effectively whether the style is internal (like tai chi) or external (like muay thai). If a style includes more than one chi concentration, then powers may be chosen from both sources. Individual styles will place limitations on the powers that may be chosen (more for flavour than any game balance reason).

These basic powers are:

  1. Concentrate Chi – twice per encounter a character may use a Chi encounter power
  2. One Chi encounter power specific to the kung fu style, but based on the chi concentration of the style (some styles will grant a feat instead)
  3. A utility power or a feat
  4. Training in several basic fighting techniques – at will attacks. More on this later.

In addition to this list, every class will grant one Chi encounter power at first level. This is a class specific power.

At later levels each style will present additional encounter powers that can be used with the Concentrate Chi class feature. These are the signature attacks of the style. Only one or two of these Chi powers will be available for each tier of play (levels 1-10, 11-20, 21-30).

Finally, each style has unique powers that are granted as daily exploits. These stances are rare and powerful techniques that ancient masters made famous for each style. They will start with a powerful attack, and then leave the character in a stance that grants ongoing bonuses for the rest of the encounter. Some of these techniques will also include special movement actions. Only one or two of these unique Chi powers will be available for each tier of play (levels 1-10, 11-20, 21-30).

The daily powers that are granted by a kung fu style may replace class exploits of the same level, the character chooses which power to use at level-up time, or changes the power by retraining.

The basic fighting techniques are the equivalent of attack concentrations in the previous versions of the game. Previously these were a tool to allow the character to sacrifice accuracy for damage, or to obtain a special ability (like a trip) while still doing damage. They also set the flavour of the style, making characters with the same class quite distinct if they used different attacks. For the D&D 4E version of the game these would be at-will attack powers which could replace the level 1 At-will powers granted by a class. However, I am not sure that they are necessary for this version of the game. This needs to be resolved in a future post. For the moment (and the example below), characters will be able to choose one style-based At-will attack power which may replace one of the At-will powers the character learns at first level. Learning this new power is optional, and the choice is available at retraining time.

Detailed example

Now I want to walk through the process of choosing a class and kung fu style, with specific example powers to choose from. This should help clarify how the ideas presented above will apply in practise.

There are 9 Chi Concentrations (listed here), which each provide two powers. For this example we will create the Fire Dragon style that has access to the Power and Speed Chi concentrations, and is mostly used by Strikers, but also some Defenders. Fire Dragon kung fu requires that students learn one power from the Speed Chi concentration and one from the Power Chi concentration. This is a limitation for flavour, and not all styles will require it.

So a character who learns Fire Dragon kung fu may choose one encounter power from the following:

  1. (Power) Concentrate Chi – Chi strike. Additional damage to an attack.
  2. (Speed) Concentrate Chi – Chi Speed. Similar to Fey step, granting battlefield mobility

and one feat/utility power from the following

  1. (Power) Forceful strike. Feat which provides +1 to damage.
  2. (Speed) Flurry of blows. Feat which provides an additional attack when you hit an opponent.

Fire Dragon kung fu is a kicking-based art. All its signature attacks are kicks, and it may have additional at-will powers related to kicks and sweeps if the option makes it into the game this time around (as discussed above).

The advanced Concentrate Chi encounter powers taught by the style are:

  • Twin dragons – attack multiple opponents or the same opponent twice
  • Hell’s dragon stroke – an attack that causes the character’s chi to burst into flame, causing massive damage to the target
  • Crackling Mad Dragon – a flurry of kicks which hits all enemies in range multiple times, burning them with fiery chi

The stances taught by the style are:

  • Dragon Across the Clouds – lightning fast attacks, which follow with movement bonuses for the rest of the encounter
  • Dragon In Ninth Heaven – a horrendously powerful kick which pins enemies in an area to the ground, and grants movement and defensive bonuses for the rest of the encounter

Character example

Eternal Rain is a student of Fire Dragon kung fu. She is a member of a class that fills the Striker role. At first level her powers look like this:

At-will powers:

  • Striker At-will power 1
  • Striker At-will power 2 OR Fire Dragon At-will power (eg. Turning sweep – kick that may trip an enemy)

Encounter powers:

  • Concentrate Chi (twice per encounter)
    • Chi Speed (she chose this over Forceful strike)
    • Striker Concentrate Chi power 1
  • Striker Encounter Power 1
  • Striker Encounter Power 2

Daily Powers:

  • Striker Daily Power 1 OR Fire Dragon stance (Dragon Across the Clouds)


  • Forceful strike
  • One feat of choice as usual at first level


After going through the example process I am pretty happy with how the final product is looking. A kung fu style will have a significant effect on the abilities of a character (which I wanted), but will not totally replace the features of the class at any point.

Something that bears consideration is whether the chosen Chi concentrations will affect class exploits. Does it make sense for characters with Power based kung fu to gain bonuses to Striker powers? At the moment I’m leaning towards a no for this one because most strikers will choose a style that already complements their abilities, and it will undermine class builds (eg. Guardian and Great Weapon Fighters) which already provide bonuses to class powers in some cases.


3 Responses to “Details of how a kung fu style works – first draft”

  1. 1 Cynan
    September 6, 2009 at 12:29 AM

    Looks good, but remember if you are going to use the default human race for this character she’ll have a third at-will and an additional feat to begin with. Neither of which are bad things.

  2. 2 Fellhand
    September 8, 2009 at 10:45 AM

    so from what im gathering so far, chargen process would consist of choosing sex, class, then kung fu style yes? And as such, the base classes available are fighter/rogue/priest/sorceror. While my 4e is a lil rusty, as a non-gestalt character, that would still only be handing out class based feats every few levels, and kung fu would most probably be leveling up a fair bit faster than that based on the progression i can see so far. Coudl be very wrong, but that’s why imt rying to clarify.

    So would it be largely possible to treat this as a “gestalt” type situation, or are they effectively multi-classing, and as such, suffer from relevant penalties etc?

    Also, on the idea of Martial arts “Spheres”, while the sytem itself is largely incompatible, i would perhaps suggest drawing on some of the celestial martial arts and the talent trees that go with them from Exalted, as it’s a very heavy martial arts based system and i think the progression tree’s may be useful here.

  3. 3 antonyball
    September 8, 2009 at 1:44 PM

    Hi Fellhand,

    The character generation process goes pretty much like that, although the classes will have more flexibility. It’s really more like WoW, where you can define melee dps, ranged dps, tank and healer classes. Each class grants ‘powers’ at various levels, and the kung fu styles will give the characters the ability to use a kung fu power rather than a class one. Adding kung fu will really add options to the character builds, rather than significantly adding to their abilities.

    Some of the discussion in the post was about class features. In this edition of D&D all classes have some powers granted as features (at first level, and they scale up as you level up), and the kung fu will replace powers that might otherwise be there. The trick is that I will have to build the class descriptions from scratch, which will be a lot of work because every class has powers defined up to level 30. Most of the player’s handbook is class descriptions for D&D 4E.
    Feats still exist, and I will add some that are kung fu style specific, to add more flavour.

    I’ll have a look at Exalted. I have several other games that work with martial arts paths as well – Feng Shui does a really good job of it, and Weapons of the Gods has some great ideas too. Weapons of the Gods is based on a comic by the same publisher as Dragon Tiger Gate, which is the main inspiration for this game.

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